Most videogames are full of violence and action based gameplay. Once in a while, I find playing something more casual or more relaxing in between is great for variety. Terra Nil is a game which aims to fill that spot. There’s no violence, no rush. Just a simulation game with puzzle and strategy elements. But does it strike the right chord? Read all about it in our Terra Nil review.
For the past decades, climate change has become an increasing issue and hot topic all around. So much so, that it’s even seeping into games. Terra Nil is one of these games. This game focuses on restoring destroyed ecosystems and bringing back balance to the planet. With the ultimate goal of allowing the ecosystem to become self-sufficient again. An interesting concept which fits the simulation genre like a glove.
Travel around the world
Earth is not in a great shape. It’s one giant wasteland, wherever you go. It’s up to you to return here and use the tools at your advantage to bring back grasslands, unpolluted oceans, forests and much more. As you start the campaign, you choose one of four biomes. There’s a temperate region, a polar region, a tropical biome and last but not least a continental biome. The four biomes are very varied, as you can imagine. However, the gameplay loop is the same for each biome.
You initially start with nothing except some resources needed to start cleaning the planet. On every map, you start with bringing back grass, ocean or fertile ground. You’ll do this by building turbines for power first (Or other buildings later on, but they serve the same function). After that, it’s time for some toxic cleanup to restore the soil. The more soil you restore and fertilize, the more resources you get to keep building. This is an essential first step as you can imagine. Before you know it, you’ll have a nice canvas to build your ecosystem on.
Spare your resources
Next up, is building your ecosystem. You can build forests, swamps, mangroves, coral reefs and so on. You can even further terraform the landscape by building rivers and such. However, this all costs resources. So you’ll have to work according to a plan of sorts. When you’re done, the map might be repopulated by wildlife depending on certain conditions. In the final step, it’s up to you to identify if wildlife has returned and recycle any buildings you placed that don’t belong in the ecosystem. The final product is a self sustaining ecosystem. This is basically the gameplay loop for all four maps. Sounds simple right?
The further in you get, the more challenging the gameplay loop becomes. Some people are blazing through the game, but the later maps definitely took me multiple tries. I found Terra Nil hits that right sweet spot in between challenging and relaxing gameplay. I had to think at times how to achieve the ecosystem I wanted to achieve, while it still offered a casual experience with some mild puzzles. There are all sorts of environmental factors which limit or hamper the progress you make. Figuring out how to deal with them is part of the fun.
Guiding you through
The tutorial or new player experience in the game is superb. On the first map, you’ll be guided step by step to see how everything interacts with each other. You’ll learn the absolute basics until it fully opens up later on. The first time on each biome, you’re limited to a few buildings you should start landscaping with. This acts as a great way to learn each biomes’ mechanics, which differ slightly from each other. As you progress, you’ll get more options which at the same time offers you hints at what to do.
When you return to a biome or restart the map, you’ll keep the options you unlocked earlier. It makes replaying a bit more interesting, since you can go a different route your second time around. This does offer some cheese options though. At one point, I accidentally set my entire map on fire by burning grass. At first I reached a goal I was going for but second later I broke my ecosystem. It allowed me to simply press undo while having my goals checked and new buildings unlocked. That felt a little weird at the time. As if I was skipping an objective.
Apart from the excellent tutorial, there are quite some accessibility options. There’s various challenge modes, including a Zen mode. If you want it to play more like a strategy and puzzle game, you can do so with limited resources. And with Zen mode, you get unlimited resources and can simply focus on building without any worries. It ensures the game is not too easy if you don’t want it to be, but also gives you the option of a purely relaxing puzzle game.
Additionally, there’s a lot of options for guidance and goals. While there are main objectives you need to follow to complete a map, there are also a lot of option challenges. There’s a journal in which you can see hints on what to do. Youl’l also find wildlife you can spot and unlock. Every map requires you to reintroduce a few types of wildlife. However, you can go all the way and unlock them all. You’ll get hints about the living conditions you’ll need to create. Additionally, climate plays a huge role as well.
Every map has a dozen or so optional climate objectives. By tampering with temperature, humidity and toxicity you can reach certain thresholds. If you unlock specific conditions, you complete a bonus objective which grants you resources and gives you small aesthetic changes on your map. For example, stones will grow moss, migratory birds will arrive on the map or snow will start melting. Really cool additions which are like cherries on a cake. In the earlier biomes, you can complete every optional objective at once with ease. However in the later biomes, I definitely needed multiple playthroughs for that.
In terms of replayability, every time you restart a biome you’ll get a randomly generated map. However, the gameplay loop remains the same and when you know what to do, there’s not a lot of challenge left. Once you complete every biome, a challenge map is available for each biome. This offers suitable challenges for the more hardcore players. Unfortunately, you’ll have to complete the game first though. It would be nice if they became available immediately after completing a biome, to offer more variety.
What am I doing?
At times, I was truly wondering “What am I doing?” as I was just winging it and felt somewhat lost just following the objectives. But when finishing a map, you can kind of tour the map and see the end result. Every time I had the aforementioned feeling, it surprised me how great the ecosystems looked. It’s an impressive feat from the development team to somewhat put all these systems together in such a way this could happen.
In terms of graphics, Terra Nil hits the right spot. It looks like pixelated tycoon games from the 90’s but with high quality graphics. It fits the genre perfectly. Especially the little details you unlock by completing objectives are amazing finishing touches. Seeing birds fly over your map or other subtle changes in the landscape is well done. The game is accompanied by a relaxing soundtrack which completes the experience. In my opinion the art and music designer should be complimented. I hope you’re reading this!
Terra Nil isn’t a long game. However, that’s alright. It probably won’t be that game which you’ll be playing non-stop for weeks. But it is a great game in between those games. To just play for an hour or so if you need a break. To let you just relax after a hard day at work. It’s a stellar example of what a casual, relaxing game should be. Offering suitable challenges while giving you good vibes. It’s a game I’ll be picking up regularly for months to come, that’s for sure.
- Excellent atmosphere
- Fun yet simple gameplay loop
- Great game to come back to every now and then
- A lot of options for guidance
- A bit short on content